Chances are you spent a lot of time thinking about the lunch box your son or daughter takes to school everyday. If Sam or Jane likes it and it’s “cool”, it was probably a done deal.
However, just last year, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), discovered many manufacturers of lunch boxes use lead in the materials. You’ll want to make sure your child’s lunch box is not made of any material that has lead in it. The lead was usually found in the inner lining where it could come into contact with the food in the lunch box/bag. Last winter, thousands of lunch boxes were pulled from US retailers. Lead is a neurotoxin which can cause health effects such as hearing, learning and behavioral problems and a general malaise feeling.
It’s very hard to tell when a lunch box/bag has lead in it, so the CEH is suggesting staying away from other box/bag which has an inner liner of vinyl. You can also test the lunch box yourself. Even the labels on the lunch box cannot be trusted; there is no standard yet set for the amounts of lead allowed in the material of a lunch box/bag.
You’ll want to get an insulated lunch bag, or, if not, use insulated containers to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot until serving time. Short, squat thermoses work well for hot foods such as stews and soups. To keep cold foods cold, use the small “blue ice” packs or the flexible ice “blankets.” With, what I call, the “ice blanket,” you can cut them to the exact size you want. Wrap cans of soda and bottled water with the “blanket” for maximum cooling.
To aid in keeping hot foods at the proper temperature, use the new ice pack/gel packs that are available. You heat the gel pack in the microwave briefly and then place in an insulated container. These can get very, very hot so be sure to use pot holders to handle and don’t overheat because they can burst. If you place the hot food inside a thermos, there is no need for the hot pack.
For kids, the hard shell lunch bags will protect the contents from getting squished if it gets tossed around. Or, the more traditional, hard lunch box will also keep foods from getting moved around. The softer coolers should not be packed with ice – it will make it much heavier and as the ice melts the moisture will be messy and the sharp edges of the ice can rip the lining. I take a bottle of water, open it and remove a small amount, then leave in my freezer overnight. I sometimes pack this alone to provide me with chilled drinking water, or inside a soft side bag with snacks or a sandwich I want to keep cold.
Pack your lunch box/bag with the foods to keep cold on the bottom with ice packs on top of them. Pre-chill these foods to help them stay cold longer. When packing the hot foods, place the hot packs on the bottom as heat travels upwards. Keep the cold foods separate from the hot foods. There are some lunch boxes/bags which have separate compartments for both your cold and your hot foods; these are excellent if you pack both types of food regularly. Keep foods dry and safe from cross contamination by placing your pre-washed, when necessary, inside airtight plastic bags. Finally, try to keep your lunch box away from direct sunlight.
Once you open and eat some of the foods packed inside, be careful to throw out anything that gets too warm or too cool. Foods should not be left out for more than an hour. When in doubt, toss it. Do not reuse the plastic bags because this will cause contamination.
I think it’s easiest to use heavy-duty plastic utensils which can be tossed after each use. I also like to toss in a tiny bottle of sanitizer (inside an airtight plastic bag) or individual tin foil packets of wipes. Wipe down the inside of your lunch bag/box after each use and add a little of baking soda to the water once a week or so; this will prevent odors from forming.
Unless it’s backpack style lunch bag, most of these can be purchased under $12. Some of the “designer” lunch boxes and bags might be a little costlier. Look for them on sale both at stores and online now because back to school products are on sale.